by Ben Makuch
Today, in the morning hours of Moscow time, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave orders for snap military exercises in the Russian Far North. The sudden “combat readiness” maneuvers of the Northern Fleet are just the latest military flexing in the Arctic by Putin since the Ukraine crisis began in 2013.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu is quoted in Sputnik News, the English wing of the state media apparatus, explaining that the exercises are designed to test Russia’s ability to defend its Arctic regions.
“New challenges and threats of military security demand the further heightening of military capabilities of the Armed Forces and special attention will be paid to the state of the newly formed strategic merging [of forces] in the North,” said Shoigu.
Back in January, Putin announced major spending plans for Russian military infrastructure in the Arctic as well as expanding the very Northern Fleet currently testing its mettle.
Canada, a major Arctic player and key opponent to Russia in the quest for expanded borders in the Far North looked at that military expansionism with concern.
“Canada is aware of Russia’s announced military infrastructure developments in its North,” said a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs at the time, “[W]e remain vigilant in our surveillance of the Arctic.”
Along with Canada, Russia and other Arctic nations are making competing United Nations bids over potentially lucrative Arctic lands, staking a claim on a region with reportedly 90 billion barrels worth of oil sitting untapped beneath the frozen crust.
“Our objective has been to obtain the most expansive continental shelf for Canada. We are working to ensure that Canada secures international recognition of the full extent of our continental shelf, including the North Pole,” said the Foreign Affairs spokesperson.
At the same time, the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) is detecting an uptick in Russian long range bombers approaching the the US and Canadian Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ)—something that hasn’t happened as regularly since the end of the Cold War.
“While we recognize the need for routine military training activity,” said Major Beth Smith of US military to VICE Canada in an emailed statement. “We have noticed an increase in the number of these flights near North America in recent months since Russia’s incursion into Ukraine and Crimea.”
American and Canadian fighters have repeatedly intercepted Russian MiGs and Tu-95 heavy bombers approaching sovereign airspace in a replay of Cold War gamesmanship.
For its part, the Canadian Armed Forces told us it was vigilantly protecting the Arctic region, but admits “there is no foreseeable military threat to Canada’s northern region.”
Other nations bordering Russia, such as Poland, which announced new defence spending and the creation of a volunteer military force, aren’t taking the exercises of the Russian Bear lightly. Currently, NATO is even staging maritime exercises in the Black Sea in an apparent message to Russia for its alleged operations in Eastern Ukraine—something the Stephen Harper government has made political hay over.
Nonetheless, with reportedly 38,000 Russian soldiers along with over a hundred helicopters and planes scouring the Russian Arctic for the next five days, you can bet NORAD and other Arctic nations like Canada are keeping a close “surveillance” watch over Putin’s latest military chest puff.
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